Topic will learning mussar help a psychopath or narcissist among others. yeshiva world news

The way many people learn mussar, I imagine it would make very little change to their character. Simply reviewing the importance of being kind, even for a healthy person, may make a lot less real change to your habits than you might expect. It may inspire you, but without a careful, calculated approach to mussar, you will probably be disappointed and surprised most of the time that mussar is not helping much. This, I believe, is the true reason why studying mussar is not popular. It does not work. Some may comfort themselves and say that it must be helping somehow and that it’s a long road, it’s not your job to finish, just to do the best you can etc.


But anyone who seriously studies the messilat yesharim will see that it requires serious thought, keeping a journal, the basis of the cheshbon hanefesh, deciding which actions are helpful, setting goals, writing them down and developing strategies to improve. Anyone who thinks about themselves will begin to see how he works and realise some obvious changes to make, often very simple. The mussar movement was very different and much more intellectual than the current approach to mussar. However a psychopath may actually be very successful with mussar, since they may be low on emotional empathy, but can often be high on cognitive empathy. A psychopath has the ability to control their actions and can actually have a lot of insights into themselves due to their intellectual ability. Maybe start a new thread on mussar, how to study and different approaches.

Learning mussar is good for everyone. Period. If the question is whether it will alleviate the personality disorders of narcissistic or sociopathic personality, that is rather tough. The expectation I would have, as a few earlier comments pointed out, these people are unwilling and unmotivated to change anything. And, as one comment suggested, the person with these conditions does not lose their free will, and can change behavior.

RJ pointed out that “mussar does not work”. I must believe that this statement was poorly worded, and I suspect a few other sentences in that comment were similarly not well expressed. Mussar works great, and that is why so many works have been written on the subject. That is why reb Yisroel Salanter ZT”L made a bigger issue of it, and the many yeshivos that followed that derech pushed the agenda. I suspect that this has diminished greatly in efficacy because it is being approached incorrectly. Mussar is NOT an academic subject, and it is NOT an intellectual pursuit. It is a derech of how to guide one’s attitudes and behavior to become a paragon of kedusha, encompassing both realms of בין אדם למקום as well as בין אדם לחבירו. I also believe that those mussar works that do not make a greater issue in discussion of the regular חשבון הנפש are simply directing their attention to the content of that process, feeling there was little need to emphasize the obvious.

As a mere MA in experimental psychology I would still like to put in my 2 cents worth. Borderline, antisocial (psychopathy) and narcissistic personality disorders are almost by definition due to an underlying lack of ability to perform certain brain functions (like feeling empathy). Think of it as the emotional equivalent of dyslexia. Part of the problem with these three personality disorders is that they don’t distress the person having them, they distress the people around them who suffer from their actions.

Learning musar is not going to help a dyslexic learn to read – special techniques are needed. For people with these types of personality disorder, change is very hard, because the person doesn’t think they need to change. Psychotherapy with such patients is very, very hard and seldom very successful. The people who most benefit from therapy are the family members who have to deal with the person.

So no, musar is not going to help the patient. Psychotherapy might, but maybe not. Anyone who thinks they are involved with someone with one of these disorders should seek help for themselves, to deal with the stress of the patient’s behavior, and also ask relevant sheilos as they come up.

However, I DO know people who fit the criterion and/or have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. In a different thread, I assertively disagreed with a poster who stated as a fact that BPD can not be “cured”. I have since been in contact with one of the foremost professionals who specializes in BPD. She clarified, that often when people are describing a person with Borderline Personality Disorder, the person they are referring to ALSO has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This detail may explain the difference of opinion and experience I have with Borderline Personality Disorder. People who fit the criterion can definitely recover, and overcome most if not all of the symptoms with a mixture of various approaches. It is very hard work, and every step is heroic. A person who is in the process of recovery deserves a lot of support, respect, and inclusion.

If they have co-existing Narcissistic Personality Disorder, I do not claim to know the dynamics, or how one might recover from that. As a frum Jew, I find it difficult to believe that something that is truly a personality disorder can not be improved upon with the proper approach. But we are using terminology that does not clearly describe biological realities. We are using terminology that was created by humans, to describe a particular group of behavioral symptoms. Only Hashem knows where a person’s nekudas habechira lies at any given time. Maybe for some people, the nisayon is just to recognize that there is something to fix. That recognition may be a tremedous avoda in itself! (meaning it will take a considerable amount of time and effort to just acknowledge that there is a problem). And maybe that is what Hashem wants from them.

Also, I would like to second the poster who explained that treating an emotional/mental health problem allows the person to get to a place where they can THEN learn mussar, and apply it. Ironically, the people that I have encountered who have worked very hard to overcome emotional dysregulation with therapy, are already practicing actual mussar concepts; they have challenged previous thoughts and behaviors, and systematically use particular skills to CHANGE their default responses.

However, had they gone directly to a mussar sefer, the effort would have likely backfired. The first thing they would experience is guilt, self-blame, hopelessness, and other non-productive emotions. Their issues would likely get worse, and the mussar would not be able to be internalized. Because the part of the person that can integrate mussar is not functioning properly! Professional intervention is indicated for healthy function to either resume, or possibly to begin for the first time.